In the past the US has stood for two principles: 1) free market capitalism and 2) individual liberty. In the near future, either stands to be shored-up or buried.
Concerning the first, there are suspicions that a suspected new bank-bailout plan is in the works. It would be funded by US taxpayers and would once again reward losers associated with failing banks: stockholders and bank executives. Krugman cites new evidence that the Obama Administration may be willing to go to just about any length to avoid a public take-over of the banking industry. The real question here is whether American capitalism reserves its biggest rewards for its biggest losers. If so, what will prevent a future group of bankers from manufacturing a new financial crisis? They will have the assurance of knowing that the US government rewards financial ineptitude with taxpayer money! Of course, such a system would be corrupt to its core (not to mention unsustainable over time). American capitalism would have come to resemble communism in the former USSR -- a lie.
The latter crisis concerns suggestions that Obama believes Bush Administration leaders should have immunity from prosecution. Consider that the only reason high officials are made subject to US law is to protect individuals from abuses of power by the state. The American system was originally predicated on the idea that the citizens need to be protected from the potential excesses of governments. If high US officials have broken the country's laws, but do not get held to account for their wrongdoing, then into the future, the rule of law will not powerfully constrain high political leaders from taking away the people's rights. Where laws are not enforced, they simply do not matter.
So what's at stake? More than Obama's personal integrity as a force for change, that's for sure.